VCAT to decide fate of contentious $21 million Bunnings development
More than 500 community objections were lodged against the proposal
Friday, April 23, 2021
THE future of the proposed Bunnings warehouse development in Brunswick East is set for a showdown in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal from next Monday.
VCAT has allocated eight days to hear the cases for and against the controversial $21 million store, which has been rejected by Moreland Council and drew more than 500 community objections.
Bunnings has bypassed the council and gone directly to VCAT to apply for a planning permit for the proposed two-storey building on Glenlyon Road, near the corner of Lygon Street. The development also backs onto Pitt Street.
Both the council and community-based Glenlyon Bunnings Action Group (GBAG) will be appearing at VCAT against the proposal, which is one of the most contentious in Brunswick in recent memory with 538 public objections lodged against it.
In December, the council’s Planning and Related Matters committee unanimously resolved not to issue a planning permit and to focus on the VCAT hearing, citing as key reasons for its refusal the impact of increased traffic on the neighbourhood’s road network, and the design and signage of the building being out of character for the area.
Bunnings wants to demolish a group of offices and semi-industrial buildings currently occupied by specialist art printer Chamton.
In its place it would construct a new retail store, in-store café, nursery and timber yard catering to both home renovators and the building trade. The building would be 15.4m in height with retail floor space of 4460 square metres across two levels, and include 236 underground car parking spaces. The development has been costed at $21 million and the new store would employ between 100 and 120 staff.
Bunnings regional operations manager Andrew Gilkes said the new warehouse would replace the existing Bunnings store in the old Spotlight building in Sydney Road.
“Bunnings has been part of the Brunswick community for five years and it’s become clear that our existing store is too small to cater for demand we’re seeing from local residents,” he said.
“We’re looking to move to a new store with space to offer a wider range of products that would also create more than 50 new jobs for locals, in addition to the 50 team members currently employed at the Brunswick store.”
Following the community backlash, Bunnings revised its plans in March to reduce the size of the underground car park, increase bike parking, reduce the amount and size of branding and signage on the building, and lower building heights on its western and northern boundaries.
But GBAG president Andrea Bunting, who lives in an adjacent block of flats in Loyola Avenue, said these “minor changes” to the original application had not resolved the traffic and amenity issues posed by the development.
“If the Bunnings developer succeeds, it would set a terrible precedent across Australia,” she said.
“Tens of thousands of residents who use our local streets will be plagued by the huge increase in traffic including heavy vehicles, making our streets unsafe and terribly congested.”
GBAG has raised $31,000 in donations which will allow it to hire a planning advocate and expert witnesses on the traffic and social impacts for the VCAT hearing.
The community group will present evidence to the VCAT hearing that during peak times of the day, 548 vehicles will enter or exit the site every hour, or one vehicle every six seconds. Ms Bunting estimated there would be more than 3000 traffic movements every day.
She said this would cause gridlock in Glenlyon Road and make it almost impossible for pedestrians or cyclists to safely pass the development, with a significant negative impact on residents and shops in the area.
She said while the proposed Brunswick East store would be slightly smaller than the Bunnings warehouse in Coburg, it was in the middle of a residential and retail neighbourhood, while the Coburg store was in an industrial area.
“This is the most heavily objected development in recent years because there is so much at stake,” she said.
“For the local community, losing would have terrible, ongoing consequences. The traffic congestion would be a nightmare and many people would no longer feel safe walking and cycling in our residential area.
“Local businesses may shut down and many residents who work from home may no longer be able to.
“Of course, all residents would wear the economic cost of delays caused by traffic congestion. And Moreland ratepayers will eventually have to pay for traffic calming and street closures to reduce the inevitable impacts.”
Among the local residents who fear the development is Alana Gray, whose balcony looks directly down on where the new timber yard would be located. It is also immediately adjacent to an easement that would be used by heavy vehicles exiting the site.
Ms Gray and her husband bought their flat last year and moved in in May, just weeks before the Bunnings proposal was made public.
“I was devastated,” she said. “The biggest investment you make in your life and literally it’s been ripped out from underneath you.”
Ms Gray, who has a chronic health condition and works from home, believes the traffic noise would be unbearable.
“I will have trucks from 6am every morning going past two metres from my bed and from my desk.”
Mr Gilkes said Bunnings had revised the development to address community concerns by reducing its impact on the streetscape and to improve access for cyclists and pedestrian safety.
He said the retailer had been disappointed the council had not granted a permit, given the developer had worked with the council on the original design to ensure it was consistent with Moreland’s strategic plan.
“Feedback from the community is an important part of planning a new store and has been thoroughly considered throughout the planning process,” Mr Gilkes said.
“We remain committed to providing local customers in Brunswick with an improved offer and believe the development is a positive investment in the local community, that will create new jobs and allow us to expand our fundraising support for community groups in the area.”
The VCAT hearing will run from Monday until May 5.